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Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  6,459 ratings  ·  876 reviews
An engrossing, lively history of a fearsome and misunderstood virus that binds man and dog. The most fatal virus known to science, rabies — a disease that spreads avidly from animals to humans — kills nearly one hundred percent of its victims once the infection takes root in the brain. In this critically acclaimed exploration, journalist Bill Wasik and veterinarian Monica ...more
Hardcover, 275 pages
Published July 19th 2012 by Viking (first published July 1st 2012)
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3.67  · 
Rating details
 ·  6,459 ratings  ·  876 reviews

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Better Eggs
What I learned from this rather boring book that detailed all incidences of rabidity (new word!) in history and literature where the word "mad" and "dog" occurred in the same sentence, is that you shouldn't get it.

Because if you get it you are going to die a really horrible death. I mean really really horrible. Frightened of the sight of water, desperate thirsty and be unable to drink and then you will get furiously angry, clinically mad and be conscious of all of this, and then paralysed and i
Montzalee Wittmann
Apr 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Rabid: A Cultural History of the World's Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy is a wonderful and insightful look into the history of this deadly virus. This book covers the myths, old remedies, different animals effected, several famous cases, the search for a vaccine, and so much more. It also describes the symptoms of the virus, the length of time for symptoms to appear and what may change this, etc. Very detailed without being boring. Great book.I got the audio version from ...more
Hannah Greendale
Aug 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
Click here to watch a video featuring this book on my channel, From Beginning to Bookend.

Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this micro-history for a book challenge, but came away super impressed and want to read more of this genre. This one, specifically, is well written and concise. I love how he reaches into the zeitgeist and pulls out the art works from each period that mirror the particular rabies scare that is occurring. He references Goya (my favorite artist) in this section:

Around the same time, the Spanish painter Francisco Goya was using spectral, bat-like figures to symbolize vampiric forces. Great s
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: bayb-2018

Rabies, a disease caused by the Lyssavirus, is one of the oldest and most dreaded afflictions in recorded history. The virus, which is transmitted by the bite of an infected creature, creeps along the nerves to the brain - after which it's invariably fatal.

The 'Lyssavirus' that causes rabies

Rabies can infect most warm-blooded animals, but is most often associated with dogs - who've been humankind's companions for thousands of years. People have always been wary of feral dogs, but even a pet can
I picked up this book because I had to go through rabies shots and experienced the totally hysteria (not me...everyone else) this virus causes and wanted to know more. Good information on rabies is surprisingly hard to find. I found the book fascinating, not just because of my own experience (I'll tell that at the bottom of the review for anyone who is interested) but because rabies is so intertwined with (1) our relationship with animals(2) literature and movies, (3) history and (4) science. Th ...more
Jul 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fic
I have a confession to make. While I enjoy non-fic books, due to the general lack of plot payoff, I am often not compelled to finish them. In fact, I usually lose interest halfway through and abandon them in favor of some fiction trifle.

There was no way that was happening with Rabid. Wasik and Murphy have crafted a book that is equal parts biology, medicine, anthropology and horror story. Its odd to use an adjective like "gripping" in description of a science book, but boy howdy is it ever! The
Jay Green
Nov 24, 2016 rated it liked it
A reasonably good "cultural history" of rabies but one feels there was so much left unexamined. Chapters deal with vampires and werewolves and their relationship to the disease, the rabies scare of the 1970s in the UK, recent treatment and discoveries, the work of Pasteur in finding a cure, and various other aspects of the illness, but some chapters felt like filler and others felt incomplete. Treatment of the disease in books and movies was fairly limited, and other artforms are ignored altoget ...more
When I saw this on Audible and that it was focused on the cultural aspect of rabies, I knew this would be really interesting, and I was not disappointed. I really enjoyed it, and I learned a whole lot about both the virus itself and how it works, as well as how this one virus has ingrained itself in cultural lore more than anything else. It shapes our language, our fears, our literature and movies, and even our science. This one virus has both taken from and given so much to humanity, it's stagg ...more
Apr 22, 2013 rated it liked it
First, I should mention that I am a biologist with a background in microbiology. This directly colors my view of this book. On the plus side, I found it entertainingly written and not at all stuffy and academic. It successfully covers a great deal of interesting encounters with rabies and presents them in a compelling way. On the negative side, I found some of the language overly dramatic and downright misleading. The books repeatedly applies words like evil, malignant and satanic to a virus, wh ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A well-researched and at times icky, horrifically fascinating pathological and social history of Rabies. I suggest you listen to the audio while walking your dog, like I did. Adds to the feels.
Jason Walker
Sep 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Read it. You won't want to think about it, but you will. Once you have read it you will question squirrels' behavior, but eventually you will get over it.
I became interested in rabies when I heard that amazingly scary story on This American Life (319:And the Call Was Coming from the Basement, Act One) where a woman was attacked by a 30-pound rabid, seemingly devil-possessed raccoon. The raccoon charged her, snarling and spitting, latched onto her leg, and wouldn't let go until it was hit about fifty times with a tire iron. Rabies has the ability to change its host's nature. If the host is a reclusive, meek raccoon or a friendly, loyal dog or a pe ...more
Erin *Proud Book Hoarder*
Everyone has weird interests that don’t really make sense. One of mine is that I’ve always been fascinated by the disease rabies. How it works, its cultural history, its effects, its terrifying possibilities. This interest just isn’t something explored much in literature or nonfiction, at least not that I’ve run across. When I asked for a recommendation for rabies-themed novels, this suggestion immediately interested me and I ordered it in a rush.

No matter how interesting the subject or well don
Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, disease
This was a good 100 page book padded by a lot of loosely connected materials that may - or may not - have had anything to do with rabies. Sure, vampires, werewolves, and zombies might draw some of their inspiration from rabies... but just because Dracula is fond of wolves and can turn into a bat doesn't necessarily make him a rabies vector. I think this level of pop culture review ("cultural history") is fine in the proper doses... but too much of this book wandered around descriptions of books ...more
Laura (Madsen) McLain
Sep 25, 2012 rated it really liked it
Really fascinating book. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am a veterinarian and am slightly obsessed with public health and infectious diseases!)

Rabies is virus which causes a virtually 100% fatal neurologic disease in all mammals, including humans. Even in the 21st century, over 50,000 people worldwide die of rabies every year. It is a horrible death of alternating periods of lucidity and psychosis, pain, fever, convulsions, hallucinations and hydrophobia (pathologic fear of water).

Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the few non-fiction books I've actually really liked. The history of rabies is so different than what I assumed it was.
William Thomas
Mar 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
Rabies. It's the basis for a lot of horror mythology, especially the American zombie. So how can you take something that could be so highly entertaining- the most deadly disease in history at a 99% mortality rate- and turn it into the most disjointed and disastrous narrative history I've ever read?

There are points where this book references The OFFICE for christssakes. I mean, come on. The padding in this book was nauseating. So much filler, so many unconnected and uninteresting stories that it
Aug 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very interesting - first third a little slow and repetitive, but all the rest is great. A well researched and scary look into the effect rabies has had on our society throughout the years. Seems like the author can tie almost anything (art, books, movies, etc.) back to rabies. Might not be a good book for you if you get grossed out easily.
Dov Zeller
When I first picked up this book I was annoyed that the writers, a married couple, a journalist and a veterinarian, seem so intent on making it entertainingly dramatic. Rabies is a topic that doesn't need any extra dollops of spectacle. (I am putting a lot of effort into refraining from frothy puns).

In the end, I'm glad I stuck with it. It's a somewhat broad-ranging and perhaps not ideally organized book, but interesting and informative. And, I suppose, who can blame the writers for wanting to,
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was ok
And in the end, rabies just isn’t that interesting.

It’s not an easy thing to make dull, especially if Rabid is correct that almost all pop-culture can be traced back to rabies - werewolves, vampires, zombies, taxes - all of it jammed awkwardly back into the theme of rabies. This is a good quarter of the book. Another third is lost on digressions into what Louis Pasteur did with the scrapings from small pox pustules - gross and interesting but still well-trodden and hard to write well. Another f
Tanja Berg
Rating 3.4* out of 5. This is a perfectly readable cultural history of rabies, a dreaded virs disease spreading predominantly from dogs to humans. From the very beginning the book makes clear that the fear of rabies has generally been greater than the threat. Then again, according to the World Health Organization, 55000 people die of rabies a year. This is a much smaller number than people dying from malaria, say, but that is of a little comfort to the ones who develop symptoms. There are are on ...more
Lis Carey
This is a cultural history of rabies. Bill Wasik is a journalist, and Monica Murphy a veterinarian, and they've put together an amazing, and amazingly readable, account of the history, mythology, and science of rabies, the only disease we know that has a nearly 100% fatality rate.

Rabies kills, and while it's doing that, it drives is victims mad, with interludes of lucidity when they know what's happening to them. It also, though most of history, mostly reached us through the most familiar of our
Bastian Greshake Tzovaras
Dec 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the second book focussing on viruses (and more specific on zoonotic diseases) I've read this year, the first being Richard Preston's excellent The Hot Zone.

While Preston focuses his story on the scientific side of Ebola and a specific (possible) outbreak of the virus in the US the approach of Rabid is much broader. But that may not be too surprising, given that Ebola itself is the new kid on the zoonotic block. Especially compared to Rabies, one of the oldest known zoonotic pathogens wi
I first heard about this book on a Radiolab segment on rabies that aired a few weeks ago. The show focused on the story of Jeanna Giese, the first known person to have ever survived an active rabies infection (thanks to an experimental -- and controversial -- treatment). The show had me hanging on every word. Given the fact that my own illness was triggered by a virus, I am endlessly fascinated by other sudden onset, viral-induced illnesses -- particularly when a doctor thinks outside the box in ...more
Jun 05, 2012 rated it really liked it
Many a virus has left its fatal mark on us throughout history, but none is as deeply steeped in legend as the most fatal of them all, the rabies virus. In Rabid Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy present an all-encompassing survey on the topic - from the early days to mythology, from literature to the latest in medicine.
At first glance you might get the impression that the focus in the book is heavily on the medical aspect, yet the authors offer a multifaceted depiction, delving into various areas on
Kater Cheek
Aug 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. Not only did it hit some of my favorite -ologies (epidemiology, anthropology, folklore) but I found it well written and engaging.

It starts out with historical accounts of rabies, known as "lyssa" by the ancient Greeks and personified by a woman with a dog's head as a cap. (eg. Was Hector's ferocity in battle due to rabies?) The book covers ancient cures and knowledge of this dread disease.

The middle of the book ventures more into the psychological implications of this
Apr 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Recommended to GoldGato by: Bettie
It's always interesting to read about the various diseases which live side-by-side with humans and mammals. Rabies, especially, is the scariest because we know that one day our best buddy Old Yeller might just decide to attack us. This most evil virus keeps us on our toes, making us diagnose creatures to see if their normal behavior has changed recently.

The book covers the whole spectrum of rabies including zombies, books, and movies. For me, that's where the book bogged down. But the chapters o
Aug 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars, mainly because I wanted it to focus more on the science and modern outbreaks and responses. The last three chapters or so had that, but before the midway point, I'm pretty confident I learned more about The Iliad than rabies itself.

They sure weren't kidding about the "cultural history" aspect.

See also: the bite of rabid dogs was once thought to contain aconite because the plant's poison produced similar symptoms. According to legend, aconite spontaneously generated in a field where C
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Bill Wasik is a senior editor of Wired Magazine, and was previously a senior editor at Harper's Magazine. He has also contributed to McSweeney's and served as Editor of The Weekly Week. Mr. Wasik revealed himself in 2006 to be the inventor of the flash mob, having anonymously organized the first recognized examples in New York City during the summer of 2003. [1][2]

Wasik is the author of And Then T
“Dogs' bond with humans is bred into their very cells, their genes; it's written through their entire history, a chronicle that can be read in their eyes. But inside this black wire cage, in the lolling eyes of what remained of a Pekingese, there was nothing legible at all. One could hardly grieve for the dog, because the dog was already gone. To euthanize it - which a BAWA vet mercifully did, moments later, with the customary dose of anesthesia - was merely to acknowledge its departure.” 1 likes
“Rabies coevolved to live in the dog, and the dog coevolved to live with us - and this confluence, the three of us, is far too combustible a thing.” 1 likes
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